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Dogs and Cats Riding in Cars: Please Think Safety First!

February 2, 2008

Definition of: safety |ˈsāftē|noun
1) the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.

I remember the first auto-restraint system I was exposed to during my youth… It was my mothers arm hurling across my chest at lightening speed pressing me back towards my seat while she yelled “hold on!” Yep, those were the good ol’ days – no seat-belt laws, no fancy car seats for us kids – just fun times bouncy around playing with the radio, reaching behind or climbing over the seat, doing whatever we wanted to do without a care in the world… Well, that all changed, didn’t it? Thank goodness… It’s just a shame we as a society had to learn the hard way – by too many statistics.

As a certified professional dog trainer, and dog mom to Poncho the dog I continue to be dumbfounded, shocked, and completely confused at the sight of seeing pet guardians traveling in cars with their dogs (and cats) riding in the car, jumping around aimlessly as I did as a child. Not that I’m perfect mind you, or want to brag, but I’ve been using car-safety restraints since we first brought Poncho home from the shelter. It just made sense. I also make it a point to go over this topic with the students in my dog training classes and private dog training clients. (BTW, dog harnesses and seat-belts are the only non-training items I sell at the Inquisitive Canine studio. This picture shows Poncho riding in his car seat, harnessed in. He is able to sit up and move around easily, but only within the area of his seat. (He’s napping after a romp at the beach.)

Is it me or is history repeating itself??? Do we need more horrific statistics to make some changes happen? Come on folks, our dogs (and cats) don’t live in some magical plastic safety bubble! Right? Sure, I don’t blame pet guardians for wanting to show their dogs or cats a good time… But please, ask yourself these questions the next time you ride with your beloved furry friend:

  • “Would this be safe for a human?
  • Would I do this with a human child?”

If you have answered “no” to either or both, then it’s probably not safe for a non-human animal either.

Let’s take a look at what could happen under the current circumstances:

  • If air bags go off, brakes get slammed on, person driving hits something, or another cars hit them – there are problems! Animals being catapulted into oblivion, airbags exploding out and breaking necks – Hello?!!! There is a reason why human children aren’t allowed – by law – to ride in seats where there are airbags until they are a specific weight &/or age, right? Does the transportation department do this for fun or because they want to save lives? Well, what about the lives of our pets? They’re not extraterrestrial beings that can somehow avoid harm.
  • They don’t think like us humans. Our pets don’t have – aren’t born with nor develop – the section of brain that covers “common sense” – (heck we humans are supposed to have it, and how many of us still fail to use it sometimes?) – Our pets don’t have the mental capability to request their safety be addressed, so it’s up to us to take this responsibility seriously…

I would venture to guess that most pet parents would want to keep their loved ones safe while still being comfortable. I know there are some folks using crates or backseat barriers to enclose their pets while driving. (I will too under certain circumstances, however I do not like to – I am a hypocrite is this respect). I ask, what happens if you should need to slam on the brakes? The dog or cat still hits the inside of the crate or barrier at whatever speed you were going… Bruising, breaking, or dislocating body parts. Doesn’t sound too safe, does it? How about hanging out the window? Uh, hello? They could fall out, get scared by a noise and jump out, something could slam into them, or fly into their eye. They can also trigger the automatic window button and get their head caught. Am I really painting a safe picture here?

Is there a perfect solution? IMHO “no”, not yet… But there are some good choices:

  • Car-seats for smaller dogs and cats like the one Poncho has, and for larger dogs harnesses where seat-belts can slip through and attach or where the attachment strap connects directly into the car connection. And if I’m not mistaken, there are automobile manufactures that have added “pet features” to some of their cars….(if I’m wrong, then I say its a shame…) With these proper restraint systems dogs and cats still get some freedom, but are kept safe while enjoying the breeze and scenery.

I admit, I enjoyed riding in my mom’s lap too…again, the good ol’ days…hey some of my best driving skills were formed when I was riding in our Buick, sitting in her lap, helping her steer… No seat-belts, but lots of giggles…and luck because I’m still here today, getting to write about it and hopefully encouraging others to keep their pets safe while out and about…

Too bad our pets haven’t figured out how to drive – it would free up owners to use cell phones safely, plus they could be official designated drivers…guess I should work on that training plan. Happy motoring! Some day I’ll tell you about dad letting me shift gears from the passenger seat.


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